Right out of the gate in the sixth episode of the long-running Harry Potter saga, sex casts quite a spell. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) have grown into young adults at an alarming rate.
It’s actually quite humorous to see Ron fretting over his performance in the upcoming round of Quidditch as if he couldn’t handle every position on the field all by himself. He’s huge, but also filled with the typical teen anxiety about proving himself and dealing with the onslaught of attention from members of the opposite sex (while it is plainly obvious that the only girl for him is right under his nose and has been during his entire stay at Hogwarts).
Harry, the Chosen One, grapples with similar issues, although the scale is, in comparison, supposed to be far grander. He’s the media darling, the cute innocent burdened with the task of saving the world from Lord Voldemort (a conspicuously absent Ralph Fiennes). The whole world rests in the palm of his hand, but this young Atlas appears quite at ease for the most part.
Concerns about getting revenge for the death of his parents and his belief that his young nemesis Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) is an active pawn of the dark lord loom, yet never so much that he can’t enjoy the brief moments of attention from his legion of adoring fans — although he’s simply not (yet) man enough to make a move on Ginny (Bonnie Wright), his true love.
Thank goodness, then, that the girls are more on the ball here. But, to be fair, that’s a major part of the charm of The Half-Blood Prince, because when you consider what is at the heart of author J.K. Rowling’s epic tale — the growth of a young hero — there’s precious little magic in the films. (Of course, I’m willing to admit that I haven’t read a single book in the series and thanks to the plodding early movie installments from Chris Columbus, I never will.)
From the start of the film series, Harry Potter as the Chosen One has suffered from the certain inevitability of the fact that he is in fact the Chosen One, thus there’s no tension or sense of peril as he wanders from year to year at Hogwarts. He collects secrets and talismans along the way. This time it’s a potions book that belonged to the titular royal sharing the bill with, you know, the Chosen One, which is filled with key descriptions guaranteed to make every concoction brew perfectly.
From Lord of the Rings to The Matrix, the best and most enduring mythic tales present dangerous scenarios where we feel in our hearts and guts that the heroes might not overcome the immediate test. We forget that there is more to come in these adventures; we believe that things might end right here and now. Good characters and engaging actors are necessary elements in that illusory mix, but the narrative is the base.
Without a doubt, Rowling brought all of her forces to bear on the page, borrowing from Lord of the Rings — I mean, really, Gandalf as a headmaster at a school for wizards? — while weaving it all into a vaguely contemporary world for young readers who might never make their way to the mythic sources. But the films, by necessity, trim much of the binding away, leaving us with Radcliffe, Grint, Watson and the stellar cast of Brits (the Hogwarts Royals). Fortunately, they are at the service of David Yates, a British television veteran who has the studied commitment of a wizard in hiding ready to burst on the scene.
The Half-Blood Prince is not a half-hearted effort, despite my misgivings. The magic here is in making me forget those qualms as I sit back and enjoy the titillating wonder of being a boy wizard. Grade: B
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